SchoolGirl by Osamu Dazai

Title: Schoolgirl
Author: Osamu Dazai (Translated by Allison Markin Powell)
Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: One Peace Books (October 1, 2011)
Genre: Fiction/ Novella
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Japan
Challenge: East and SouthEast Asia Challenge
Rating: 3 out of 5

My thoughts:
I was very interested in this book because it’s considered a Japanese modern Classic and is written by a very popular Japanese author. Considering how weak my knowledge is in Japanese literature, modern or otherwise, I thought reading this book would give me an insight into the same.

This book could be sensitive, silent, hopeful and depressing all at once. Schoolgirl is a basically a day in life of a schoolgirl on the verge of womanhood. Her mothers indifference following her father’s death leaves a huge void in her life leaving her alone and vulnerable. Beneath all the loneliness she is also very depressed. She is at a stage in her life where her thoughts are full of contradictions. Her view of the world is hopeful and depressing at the same time.

Plot is something that is very important to me in a novel and Schoolgirl definitely doesn’t have one. But my main problem with the book is that I couldn’t relate to the central character which is perhaps no fault of the author or the translator. For someone who doesn’t get depressed ever (touch wood), I didn’t understand how the girls thoughts veered towards depression so often and for no reason. I know there are people who suffer from depression and perhaps it is as unexplained as it is for this girl.

The back of the book says that Osamu Dazai suffered from depression during his lifetime and he died from a suicide attempt after several unsuccessful ones. There must be a few of his thoughts reflected through this young girls vision.

Overall I wasn’t as impressed with this book as so many others have. But I’m glad I read it.

For the Love of a Son by Jean Sasson

Title: For the Love of a Son
Author: Jean Sasson
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Personal Shelf
Set in: Afghanistan, America and Jeddah
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
I love books by Jean Sasson. The first time I read on of her books I was in 11t Grade and it was probably my first non-fiction book. I have been a huge fan of hers ever since. I think her writing is simple but the stories in her books are heart wrenching. I remember I cried a lot when I read her book Mayada. She writes about women in the Muslim World. She writes about their oppression at the hands of those they love, oppression by their government and because of age old beliefs that are hard to shake even in this century.

This book is no different. For the Love of a Son is the story of a woman from Afghanistan called Maryam. Jean Sasson begins by telling us about Maryam’s grandmothers forced wedding to a man much older than her and the brutality she faced after he died. Maryam’s father was a very kind man in comparison to most of the Afghan men. She grew up under the loving protection of her much liberal parents and was, in a way, naive about the world around her. She saw them suffer abuse and thought them weak for not raising their voices.

But her perfect world came crashing down when their family had to flee Afghanistan after the Russian invasion. Their family immigrated to America where she thought she would be free from the sanctions imposed by Afghanistan government and their society. Maryam’s father married her off to a fellow Afghan who turned out to be a very violent and abusive man. When she had a son, he fled with him to Afghanistan.

This story is mainly Maryam’s but it is also the story of all the women who have suffered tremendously because of their government or their culture. This book tells us about so many such woman whom either Maryam knew personally or had heard about. I feel sad knowing there is so much cruelty against women, that their father’s, brothers and uncles who are supposed to love and cherish them, push them into a dark world and leave them without hope or self respect. It’s unbelievable how strong these women are even if it’s for the sake of their family, their children or themselves.

I will remember Maryam’s story for  along time to come and I hope more people read this book.

Note: That’s Maryam on the cover by the way. Also, it’s surprising how much history of Afghanistan is covered in this book which was a plus point for me.

The Night bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Title: The Night Bookmobile
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts; First Edition edition (September 1, 2010)
Source: Library
Rating: 1 out of 5

My thoughts:
I was excited when I saw a graphic novel written by Audrey Niffenegger at the library, so I immediately checked it out. Unfortunately I was really disappointed with the book. The graphics were normal, not bad , but nothing to talk about either.

The Night Bookmobile is about a young woman who finds a night bookmobile when roaming the streets one night after having a fight with her husband. She is surprised to find all the books that she has ever read in her life in the bookmobile. I wont tell you what happened because it’s a small book and it would probably spoil it for you. But suffice to say that I didn’t like what happened after that.

It’s one thing to love books, even to be passionate about them but I found this to be too much. I believe everything is good in moderation, until it doesn’t overtake the other aspects of your life. The blurb by Neil Gaiman on the back cover of the book says “a cautionary fantasia for anyone who has ever loved books“. Even though I’m obviously a book lover this doesn’t really ring true for me. Also, I felt it was too short a book to connect with any of the characters, I finished it in less than half an hour.

In short, there is nothing that I really liked about this book except the concept of stumbling across a library that will hold all the books you’ve ever read in your life. I feel like I should have liked this book but maybe I missed something. It definitely wasn’t for me.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

Title: These Old Shades
Author: Georgette Heyer
Source: Personal shelf
Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Harlequin; Reprint edition (July 1, 2003)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
There were so many times when I picked up a Georgette Heyer book and left it after reading 2 pages. I think it was wrong timing. but when I bought These Old Shades from the library sale and read that it was a romance story, I decided to give it a try.

These old shades is about a duke Justin Alastair, also known as Satanas and a very young but spirited boy called Leon, atleast until the Duke discovers that Leon is in fact Leonnie. One night Justin happens to meet Leon when he is running away from his cruel brother Jean. He takes Leon home with him and makes him his Page. Justin does not do it out of pity, he does it because Leon holds a striking similarity with his enemy of 20 years and with whom he still has to settle the score. When Justin comes to know that Leon is in fact Leonnie, he transforms her into a girl and decides to adopt her thereby introducing her to the society.

Honestly, I was a little bored by the first half of the book. It was too slow for me. But the second half was amazing, filled with adventure and romance. I cannot tell you much about the second half without spoiling the story but suffice to say I couldn’t keep the book down. There were too many characters which sometimes confused me but by the end I almost got them all straight. Leonnie was such a fun, adventurous character. Sometimes she was too young but sometimes she was much wiser than her age which made her more appealing to me. Georgette Heyer’s prose is sharp, witty, mature and yet fun and easy to read.

I recommend this book to those interested in fun historical fiction and those who are looking for a good escape story.

The Great Elephant Escape by Antoinette Van De Water

Title: Title: The Great Elephant Escape
Author: Antoinette Van De Water and Liesbeth Sluiter
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Set in: Thailand
Challenge: East and SouthEast Asia
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
I had very low expectations from this book but it ended up surprising me. The Great Elephant Escape  is about a German woman Antoinette who volunteered in an Elephant Park in Thailand and ended up organizing a ‘Bring the Elephant home’ campaign. Antoinette loved elephants and empathized with their situation in Thailand. She wanted to do more than volunteer and that’s when she came up with the project. The book  chronicles her and her teams journey through Thailand with the rescued Elephants. The goal of the project was to make people aware of the plight of the elephants.

Today Elephants in Thailand are mainly used for begging and tourism purposes. There are Elephant shows, Elephant rides and the works. But there are also elephants that work in the logging industry. Violent measures are usually used to train them and they are often not treated well. With deforestation, the elephant owners have little to feed their elephants, so they have to resort to take them to the cities to beg or use them in the logging industry.

Antoinette begins her project by raising money which seems a lot more difficult than she imagined. A lot of things that could go wrong did go wrong during the planning of this project. But as the project progressed there was also a lot of support and awareness created about the Elephants and their plight. The author takes you through Thailand with her and lets you experience the frustration of dealing with the Thai bureaucracy, the sorrow of seeing the plight of these majestic animals and the happiness of finally doing something for them.

The writing if not very literary is good enough to pull you into the book without any distractions. Antoinette seems like a genuine person who poured her heart and soul into this project. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in memoirs or Elephants.

Pompeii by T.L.Higley

Title: Pompeii
Author: T.L.Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in: Pompeii (Rome)
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:

This being the third book I have read by T.L.Higley, I can safely say that this author never disappoints. Pompeii is one of the books in the “Seven wonders of the world” series and no, you don’t have to read the previous books to understand this one because they are completely unrelated.

Pompeii is a small holiday town nestled in the shadow of the mountain Vesuvius. Ariella escapes Jerusalem when the Romans capture the city. For 9 years she works as a slave to Valerius and has to take part in the activities of his secret cult. She escapes Valerius and this life of slavery when she disguises herself as a young boy in a Gladiator group. This group then comes to Pompeii to perform. Cato comes to Pompeii to get away from Rome and all its political intrigues, to escape from his past humiliations and failures.

While Ariella, as Ari, tries to survive a gladiator camp full of men, Cato tries to stay away from the sleazy politics of Pompeii. But he is ultimately dragged into it when he meets the Town politician Maius. Mauis is the kind of man who will do anything and everything to stay in power. He takes an instant dislike to Cato. What follows is a political war where Cato tries to get the town to side with him and Mauis trying to crush him in every way possible. Meanwhile Ariella tries her best to train and survive the fights as a male gladiator.

I loved this book. It has the a distinct T.L.Higley flavor to it. Ariella is a strong female character who will fight to survive and refuse to take charity from anyone. The courage she showed was truly inspiring. Cato on the other hand was not so striking as a character. I thought he was a little bland compared to Ariella. The story is amazing though. I love how the author can build a believable story out of nothing but the ruins of Pompeii and some historical information available. Mauis was a slimy character, a true villain, the kind that could give you bad dreams. I seriously don’t remember hating a fictional character so much.

One thing to remember is that this is a Christian Fiction and Pompeii definitely is a little heavy on this aspect compared to her previous 2 books I’ve read. But I wasn’t really bothered by it as it was woven into the story with such ease that it never felt forced. Ariella has lost faith in God because of her loss and suffering. Cato is so lost and confused with life that he needs a direction and Christianity provided them that. Having said that there is absolutely no preaching in this book or any other books written by T.L.Higley. That’s what I love about this author so much. I have no interest in reading about Christianity or any other religion for that matter. But I loved Pompeii for the sheer brilliance of its story.

Here are the reviews for the other novels written by T.L.Higley.
Shadow of Colossus
Guardian of the Flame

Shadow of Colossus still remains my favorite book though. Pompeii coming a close second.
Go HERE to see some pictures of Pompeii and of the authors travels there.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source: personal shelf
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said before? So I’ll keep it short. I was introduced to Neil Gaiman by Hugh when he mentioned Stardust a long time back. After that I kept reading about what a great author he was on other book blogs. I bought Fragile things and tried to read it. I loved the few stories that I read even though I found them a little weird. But my attention span for short stories is very limited and I left the book half read. After that I kept searching for The Graveyard Book after reading rave reviews but in library it was always checked out and those in book stores are expensive. To cut the long story short, I finally gave in and bought this book; and I LOVED it.

Neil Gaiman is everything that everyone has said and more. For me The Graveyard Book was mostly a coming of age story than a fantasy. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a story of a boy called Nobody Owens. His entire family is killed one night and he, as a toddler, wanders into the graveyard and is saved by a ghost couple Mr and Mrs Owens. Silas, who is neither dead nor alive and who lives in a crypt in the graveyard agrees to be his guardian and bring him all the necessities.

I loved the world Neil Gaiman has created in this book – all the ghosts in the graveyard, the atmosphere, the blue tattoo man and the ghouls gateways. Everything was so fascinating even if it was in a story. Most of all I loved Bod, loved seeing him grow up and eager to explore and know more about his surroundings. I also loved his adventurous and fearless spirit, although you probably think that’s not much considering he grew up in a graveyard.

There is something magical about Neil Gaiman’s writing, it’s as simple as it can get but it also has great depth. I wonder whats next for Nobody Owens, hopefully Mr. Neil Gaiman will let us know in a sequel?

I am eager to experience more of Gaiman’s writing. What should I read next?

Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Title: Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough
Author: Ruth Pennebaker
Source: Review Copy
Publisher: Berkley (January 4, 2011)
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

My thoughts:
When 3 generation of women who cannot stand each other have to live under the same roof, you can definitely expect some entertainment. That’s exactly what we get in Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough. For a minute I thought this would be a self help book, but not really. It’s a story about 3 completely different women and how they go through their almost nervous breakdowns and subsequent breakthrough’s.

Joanie is in her late 40’s and has just gone through a divorce with her long time husband Richard because he cheated on her with a girl in her 20’s. Her mother Ivy whom Joanie is not very close to has also come to stay with her. Her teenage daughter Caroline is trying to come to terms with her parents’ divorce in her own way which has created a distance between mother and daughter. In addition to all this, Joanie has to take up an advertising job after years of staying at home. Obviously she is on an all time low.

All these three women are annoying and endearing at the same time. With her marriage broken, Joanie is always complaining and although you understand why, you wish she would just stop for a minute. But then she is also trying to get her life back on track by getting a job and working towards her issues by joining a divorce group. I disliked Ivy for  always nagging Joanie and Caroline and finding faults in everything Joanie did. She’s also more biased towards her son even though its Joanie who has taken her in after she lost all her savings. On the other hand you also feel bad for her because she’s lost everything and has come to her daughter to stay. Caroline is a teenager, so obviously she is irritating and annoying and all that but you also feel bad for her because she feels invisible in school and everything is not good at the home front too.

As the novel progresses, each of these three women realize the worth of the other as they come to terms with their own loss and realize the value of the other. The author, Ruth Pennebaker, has written a thoroughly entertaining book and although the circumstances are depressing, no where does the book become overbearing or boring. I didn’t find it laugh out loud funny as written on the book cover but I did make me smile at places. Initially I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like the book because the characters were so unlikable. But as the book progressed and the layers peeled you realize they have their own charm.

The author has managed to show the fragile thread by which these relationships are hanging by and how they reluctantly work towards their differences and misunderstandings. Definitely give this book a try if you interested in reading about relationships between women.

Shameless by Anne Stuart

Title: Shameless
Author: Anne Stuart
Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Mira; Original edition (June 21, 2011)
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Review copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Shameless is the 4th book in the House of Rohan series and honestly I wouldn’t have picked it up if I had known it was a series book. I prefer to read them in order. But I was traveling and I needed something light to read and this was the only book that caught my attention. Recently my luck has not been very good when it comes to Romance novels. I thought it’s probably because I’m tired of this genre but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It was probably not finding any author to “click” with. I’m trying to read new authors lately and find that none have been to my liking, but this book I liked. I can’t say I loved it but I liked it enough to try other books written by Anne Stuart.

Shameless is a historical romance. After the death of both his wives in child-birth, Benedick just wants to find a docile wife to give him an heir and leave him alone to pursue his own thing. He is almost on the verge of finalizing a certain Miss Pennington when he meets Melisande. Melisande is on a crusade to save all the prostitutes in the city by giving them shelter and a means to begin a new life. When she meets Benedick he is everything that she doesn’t need in a man. He has been “serviced” by many of the girls under her care and is quite famous for his love-making skills. Melisande doesn’t need a guy like him when she has sworn off marriage and “the pleasures of the flesh” because of her experience with her very old husband and later a dispassionate young man. Both Benedick and Melisande are obviously unsuited for each other (talk about clashing interests) but they have to work together to save Benedick’s younger brother and Melisande’s girls. Their attraction to each other is obviously undeniable and they end up falling for each other.

Although the story line is pretty predictable, the heavenly host angle is very interesting. I wouldn’t say the book was outstanding but it kept me engrossed and at no point was I bored with the book. Benedick and Melisande, are both very interesting characters. Obviously a rake like Benedick will be a hero only in romance novels. But that’s the beauty of it in my opinion. I tend to believe most of the crap when it comes to romance novels. I can believe that a rake like Benedick will leave his bad ways and settle down and be a one woman man when he finds the right one. Both the central characters struggle with their attraction to each other not wanting to accept it nor wanting to let it go. It’s a nicely developed romance for sure.

I believe I will track down the other books in this series after some time. After all good historical romance authors are hard to find.

Have you read anything by Anne Stuart before? What book or series would you recommend?

A Golden Age and the Good Muslim by Tahmima Aman

Today I’m reviewing two books together just because they are the first 2 books in a 3 book series and I feel the second cannot be read without the first.

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Personal Shelf
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
In 1947, after Independence from the British, India was partitioned into India and Pakistan (east and West). East Pakistan was later named as Bangladesh after the 1971 war. Okay, as an Indian, I know all this. But my knowledge about the Bangladesh war of Independence is very limited. Forget about the war but even otherwise I knew very little about Bangladesh in spite of its proximity to India. So when my husband went to Bangladesh for work, I asked him to get me something written by a Bangladeshi author and he got A Golden Age. Honestly I couldn’t have selected a better book.

A Golden Age is about a Muslim woman called Rehana whose husband has expired and her children are forcefully handed over to the relatives as she was deemed unfit to raise her kids all alone. She works hard to get her kids back to Dhaka and succeeds but not without any sacrifices. The story actually begins when her kids are all grown up: Maya is a 17-year-old and Soheil is 19. Soheil and Maya are actively involved in student politics; Soheil is a very charming speaker and can pull crowds. When Pakistan attacks Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), Rehana does not want her children to get involved in the war in any way. She had to fight very hard to get them back from her relatives and she doesn’t want the war taking them away from her.

As the war comes closer to home and her children become involved to the point of leaving their homes and fighting for their country, we see all that Rehana has ever struggled for on the verge of falling to pieces. We also see her strength as a woman and her resolve to protect her children at all costs.

In A Golden Age, we don’t get to know the details of the war, we are always on the fringes. Our state is like Rehana’s, wanting to know what is happening and when it will all end. It is a human story, the story of a mother set against the backdrop of a war. I loved the authors writing, it took me to Bangladesh, to Dhanmondi and that period of struggle. I enjoyed reading this book immensely inspite of the serious topic. It was informative and entertaining. This is one book that I very highly recommend.

———————————————————————-
Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tehmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Review Copy
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
The Good Muslim begins 10 years after A Golden Age ends. It felt right to review these 2 books together as the second one is the continuation of the first and without reading the first book  it is very difficult to understand the second. The war has ended, a new country, Bangladesh is formed and 10 years have passed. This book is from Maya’s point of view and she is now a women’s doctor in a remote village in Bangladesh, leaving her mother and brother, for reasons unknown at that point. Due to some unfortunate circumstances Maya has to return to Dhaka. She finds that a lot has  changed while she was away. Her brother has dedicated himself to Islam and he is no longer close to their mother. Soheil’s wife’s funeral is being held and he also has a son called Zaid who is 4 years old.

Soheil has begun to give religious sermons and has left his sons upbringing to a woman who works with him. She is as strict and religious as Soheil and Zaid is left without any education and anyone to look after him. Maya struggles to settle back in Dhaka and tries to comprehend the changes Soheil has gone through. She takes Zaid under her wing and tries to make his life better.
On the other hand, she also struggles to understand how people can forget how they struggled for Independence only a few years back and have moved on. She doesn’t want to move on. She wants to remember, not only all that happened but also how Soheil was before and during the war. She wants to understand what Soheil has gone through to affect him so much that he has to turn to religion. When Soheil decides to send Zaid to a Madrasa, Maya thinks she has to do something for Zaid.

In The Good Muslim we don’t get to know what’s going on in Rehana’s mind which was weird considering how tuned I was to her feelings in the first book. It felt uncomfortable not knowing what was going on in her mind. Nevertheless, Maya is an interesting character as well. The author has shown all her confusion, anger and frustration very well.

I loved this book equally if not more than A Golden Age. I thought without the war as a backdrop, the book would be boring but it wasn’t. Her writing is very beautiful yet very easy to read and get lost into. She takes you to the remote villages in Bangladesh as well as to the rapidly changing Dhaka with equal ease. Most of all it reminded me of home, of eating puchkas and drinking chai from a street vendor while looking at an ever changing landscape.

Tahmima Aman takes you into the heart of the country and into the heart of the people who reside there. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.

Note: A Golden Age is from my personal shelf while The Good Muslim is a review copy.